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Click here for the full text of this decision FACTS:The Dallas Police Department hired Teresa Ward Cooper as a police officer in 1988. By 2002, Cooper reached the rank of sergeant. On Oct. 7, 2002, Cooper requested a leave of absence and applied for short-term disability benefits. On the form, Cooper stated her disability was “stress and exhaustion.” Her psychologist stated on the form that his specific diagnosis was “Generalized Anxiety Disorder.” Cooper’s short-term disability status was approved for six months, the maximum amount of time for short-term disability benefits. Cooper’s six months of short-term disability leave expired on April 6, 2003, but Cooper did not report to work then. Cooper’s husband, Lt. Jay Cooper, wrote a note to Deputy Chief Daniel Garcia stating that Teresa Ward Cooper had not been released to work and that she was seeing her psychologist on April 9. On April 9, Cooper’s psychologist wrote her a note stating that she would need at least 30 more days before returning to work. Garcia agreed to give Cooper until May 11 to return to work. When Cooper had not returned to work by May 14, Garcia notified Cooper that her unsatisfactory attendance, position abandonment and inability to come to work violated the city’s personnel rules and the police department’s general orders. Garcia informed Cooper that there would be a pretermination hearing on May 16, 2003, to give her the opportunity to respond and present documentation. At the pretermination hearing, Cooper said that she could not return to work and do the job. After the hearing, the department discharged Cooper from her position with the city for excessive absences, inability to come to work and job abandonment. Cooper appealed her termination to the city manager, who rescinded the allegation that Cooper abandoned her job but upheld her termination on the grounds of excessive absences and inability to return to work. Cooper then appealed her termination to an administrative law judge, who held a hearing on Feb. 19 and 20, 2004. At the conclusion of the hearing, the administrative law judge determined that Cooper had violated the city’s personnel rules through her inability to return to work, but he determined her termination was improper, because there was no Internal Affairs Division investigation as required by the department’s general orders. The judge ordered Cooper reinstated into her previous status of being on leave without back pay through at least March 1, 2004. Cooper took issue with the denial of back pay and appealed the administrative law judge’s decision to the district court. After a hearing, the court found there was substantial evidence to support the administrative law judge’s decision and denied Cooper’s requests for relief. Cooper appealed the district court’s decision. HOLDING:Affirmed. First, Cooper contended that the district court erred when it decided her case under the substantial evidence standard. But the court stated that this was the correct standard. Under the substantial evidence standard, the court stated that in this case it fell to the district court to determine whether the agency’s decision was reasonable based on the facts before the agency (in this case, the police department). An administrative decision may be sustained even when the evidence preponderates against it, the court stated. Second, Cooper contended that the district court erred in refusing to consider evidence that was not before the administrative law judge. During the hearing before the district court, Cooper attempted to introduce evidence of an internal affairs investigation of Garcia for falsely testifying that the police department did not use time cards after 2002. The investigation occurred after the hearing before the administrative law judge, and none of the materials related to the investigation were before the administrative law judge. Cooper also sought to introduce evidence of a settlement agreement between the police officer’s union and the city, certain time cards, and newspaper and Internet articles concerning a $125,000 sanction against the city in an unrelated case tried in Tarrant County. The district court excluded these materials. The court disagreed with Cooper’s assertion that the district court could look outside the record of the hearing before the administrative law judge to determine whether evidence was incredible, perjured or unreasonable. The city’s charter and ordinance, the court stated, require that the appeal in district court be decided “based upon the review of the record” of the hearing before the administrative law judge. Third, Cooper contended that the district court erred in determining that substantial evidence supported the administrative law judge’s decision that Cooper should not have been placed on administrative leave. The court found, however, that because Cooper’s commanders never realized she was suffering an illness or emotional distress, they were not required to place Cooper on administrative leave. The evidence also showed that the relevant general order did not apply after Oct. 7, 2002, because Cooper was not on active duty but was on leave. The court concluded that this evidence constituted substantial evidence supporting the administrative law judge’s decision and that the district court did not err in denying relief. The court then found that the district court did not err by declining to modify the administrative law judge’s order that Cooper was entitled to 104 weeks of leave without pay. The court also found that substantial evidence before the administrative law judge showed Cooper was unfit for duty and would not have earned any pay during the period between her termination and reinstatement. OPINION:Mazzant, J.; Bridges, Moseley, and Mazzant, JJ.

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